Everything Everywhere All at Once was reviewed out of the SXSW Film Festival, where it made its world premiere. It will hit theaters on March 25, 2022.
The multiverse has officially invaded our pop culture landscape, and the idea of seeking characters from alternate realities can be found everywhere. Of course, when reality is so frequently bleak, getting a chance to escape it and get a glimpse of a different universe is ever so appealing. Everything Everywhere All at Once finds fresh soil to plant a complex seed in this conceit, a fresh take on the trend that is truly bizarre, gross, heartfelt, and honest. This is a work of art about staring into the abyss, taking stock of the darkness around us, and choosing kindness over despair. It also features Michelle Yeoh in an alternate dimension where people have giant hot dogs for fingers, so there’s that too.
The opening scene introduces the Wangs as a happy Chinese American family through a mirror, before jumping inside said mirror and revealing a deeply dissatisfied and broken family on the other side. Evelyn (Yeoh) is in an unhappy marriage with a stubbornly guileless husband Waymond (the phenomenal Ke Huy Quan) who frustratingly sees the bright side in every situation and convinced her to move to California and find a better life after her overbearing and intimidating father, Gong Gong (James Hong having the time of his life at just 93 years young), forbid their marriage and disowned her. Unbeknownst to Evelyn, Waymond isn’t all that happy either, as he hides divorce papers that he tries to muster the courage to give to his wife. Last but not least, Evelyn’s daughter, Joy (Stephanie Hsu), is far from an epitome of her own name, with the lack of acknowledgment from Evelyn towards Joy’s girlfriend revealing a deep well of under-discussed frustration.
The last straw in a lifetime of being dealt bad hands (when she was born, the doctor apologized to her father for having a baby girl) is that Evelyn’s laundromat is being audited by the IRS and the human version of Roz from Monsters, Inc. , played by Jamie Lee Curtis in so much makeup and prosthetic work that she could rival Colin Farrell’s Penguin. But the audit gets interrupted by an emergency plea for Evelyn to save the entire multiverse from annihilation by tapping into the skills of her more accomplished alternate selves. Why is this Evelyn the one to save them all? Because she is quite literally the least fulfilled, the biggest blank slate of them all; a woman who has failed at every single hobby, dream, and goal she ever attempted.
Yeoh gives what could very well be the best performance of her career thus far as a character going through a deep mid-life crisis. Yeoh not only does a terrific job portraying the emptiness of main Evelyn’s life, but she makes every one of her alternate selves feel unique yet recognizable in the different choices they made. Everything Everywhere All at Once firmly acknowledges that once you start thinking about those roads not taken, once you take in everything in your life, everywhere you go, all at once, there is no choice but to realize how pointless it all is. This is a film that feels uniquely made by millennials who see the world around them crumble; it is a painful piece of irony that it’s coming out not only in the middle of a pandemic, but as global political strife intensifies. It’s coincidentally fitting for the specific time period we find ourselves in, even if the filmmakers happened upon this by accident – it’s about thinking things can change for the better, while realizing that trying to change the bleak and hopeless future ahead of us is fruitless. Not since Lars Von Trier’s Melancholia has a film so crushingly and accurately depicted clinical depression and the feeling of just wanting to jump into the abyss. And yet, this movie is anything but hopeless. On the contrary, it comes out on the other side with a renewed sense of hope, as it chooses kindness and decency over despair.
Of course, this is a film by the Daniels, a directing duo who made their feature debut with a movie about a farting corpse whose dick served as a compass — there was simply no way this would be a complete downer. Instead, Everything Everywhere All at Once is also absolutely exhilarating and gross, and full of kick-ass action. The Daniels (Daniel Kwan and Daniel Scheinert) are adept at using toilet humor to convey deep and complex ideas, and this film is full of those. This is a movie where the IRS building is full of dildo-shaped trophies it hands to its employees, where jokes about Disney’s Ratatouille can drive the plot forward, and a universe where people who have hot dogs for fingers can lead to one of the most touching romantic scenes ever put in a sci-fi action film.
And make no mistake, this is an action movie – one of the best ones in years at that. Despite running at over two hours, it never stops moving, with the camera acting as an extension of Evelyn’s undiagnosed ADHD, always frenetic and kinetic. By tapping into her alternate selves, Evelyn is not only struggling with how her life turned out, but also getting a Millennium Actress-like view of her life in chapters of “what ifs” that celebrate Yeoh’s incredible career. The action is also never boring or repetitive as we go from one version of Evelyn who is a martial arts expert, to an opera singer, a chef and even a sign twirler, with the Daniels finding unique situations to put each bizarre skill to deadly use .
Everything Everywhere All at Once also serves as a celebration of Asian cinema at large, with stunning homages to everyone from Wong Kar-Wai to Stephen Chow and Jackie Chan, and even a little Satoshi Kon thrown in for good measure. The result, a film that truly feels like it encompasses everything, everywhere, all at once, is monumental. It’s similar to when The Matrix took all the fears and ideas of its time and turned them into a stylish action film with grand thoughts.
That Everything Everywhere All at Once is produced by previous Marvel mainstays the Russo brothers, and that it comes out while Spider-Man: No Way Home still swings in theaters, is ironic, because with a fraction of its budget, this film makes for an infinitely better multiverse production than any superhero movie has ever gotten close to. While the idea of a multiverse is exciting, for sure, TV and film has so far mostly focused on its wild, big-scale possibilities. But the Daniels manage to both explore the larger, galaxy-brain implications of this concept, while also telling a rather intimate story of feeling like your life is leading nowhere and the world is going to hell, while deciding to embrace the small moments of joy and just be nicer to those around you. This is a film that could only be made now, a movie that encompasses everything, but can be appreciated and understood everywhere, all at once.